William Penn

From BibleStrength
William Penn, who founded the Quaker/Christian government of Pennsylvania in 1682.

William Penn (October 14, 1644 - July 30, 1718) is the father of Democracy in the United States; who Thomas Jefferson called "the greatest law giver the world has produced."[1] He was a pacifist Quaker whose founding of the Christian government of Pennsylvania in 1682 inspired the later United States of America.[2] Penn's new government originated the principles of representative government, Separation of Church and State, and elimination of nobility and ranks,[1] while producing almost exactly a century before the U.S. Constitution concepts such as an elected 2-house Congress to pass bills, religious freedom, freedom of speech, and a Bill of Rights (then called 'Charter of Privileges'). He also, in 1693, drafted a lengthy proposal for a future European Union or as he called it, a "European League, or Confederacy."[3]

William Penn was also one of the great champions of religious freedom in 17th century England, repeatedly imprisoned, who helped preserve the greatly persecuted Quaker religion which survives today.


William Penn was born on October 14, 1644,[5] the oldest son of famous Admiral Sir William Penn (1621-1670) and Margaret Jasper's three children. The Admiral was renowned for his naval victories for the Crown during its mid-seventeenth century wars with the Dutch, and was knighted by King Charles II for his service in the British Navy.[6] Margaret Jasper was the daughter of a wealthy Rotterdam merchant.[6] Recovering from a recent civil war, England had few funds left with which to fight, and the Admiral had personally used his own wealth, approximately sixteen thousand pounds, to fund the Navy, an unsettled debt that would have later consequence. England ultimately ended up controlling considerable land in America, the 'New World', as a result of its successful war against the Dutch.[1]


Portrait of William Penn at age 22 in 1666, painted after his first military victory.

At age 11, Penn attended Chigwell Academy near Wanstead, England and in 1656 the family moved to Ireland where he received private tutoring.[7] At age 17 William Penn was expelled from Oxford University for criticizing the elaborate ceremonies of the Anglican Church, protesting required chapel attendance, and visiting a professor (John Owen[4]) who'd been dismissed for teaching tolerant Humanism.[8] Following this, his parents sent him to France, enrolling him in its most respected Protestant University, l'Académie Protestante, where he studied with Christian Humanist Moïse Amyraut, a supporter of religious tolerance. In August 1664, nearing his 20th birthday, Penn returned to England and studied at Lincoln's Inn, the most prestigious law school in London.

Penn's father, the Admiral, who was then assigned to rebuilding the British Navy in preparation for another war with the Dutch, asked that his son serve as his personal assistant aboard the Royal Charles[6], and also used him as a courier for delivering messages to King Charles II, during which the young Penn developed a friendly relationship with the King and his brother James, the Duke of York (later King James II).[4] In 1666, following his first military victory, a young William Penn posed for a portrait in a suit of armor.[9]

A Quaker

The Quakers were founded in 1647 by George Fox and believed all people were equal before God, emphasizing a direct relationship with their Creator. They believed they were guided by an "inner light", the Holy Spirit, opposed restriction of individual conscience, and had simple, unadorned church services without ministers, sacraments, or liturgy. Quakers furthermore refused to swear oaths of loyalty to the King, pay tithes to the Anglican Church, or bear arms. In Anglican England they were viewed as heretics and subject to arrest, persecution, and imprisonment.[8][4]

In 1667, William Penn was introduced to Quaker missionary Thomas Loe[10], and underwent an experience similar to the Apostle Paul, claiming, "The Lord visited me, and gave me divine Impressions of Himself."[8] He afterward began attending Quaker meetings, known as The Society of Friends, even though this was a crime in Anglican England at the time. In September 1667, police broke into a meeting, arresting everyone, but released William, because he looked like an aristocrat rather than one of the plain-clothed Quakers. Penn refused to be released, and had himself jailed, insisting that he be treated the same as his new friends. He then began preparing a legal defense and began writing about freedom of conscience. His father then disowned him when he refused to disaffiliate himself from the Quakers, and he lived in a number of Quaker households when not imprisoned.[4][11]

This new affiliation shocked the high society to which Penn belonged because the Quakers at the time were an intensely persecuted faction, yet he nevertheless maintained standing in the king's court because the Duke of York (future King James II) trusted him.[5]


In 1668, staying with the Quaker family of Isaac Penington of Buckinghamshire, Penn was introduced to Penington's step-daughter, Gulielma Maria Springett, and it was virtually love at first sight. Thomas Elwood, the literary secretary of poet John Milton, would note her "innocently open, free and familiar Conversation, springing from the abundant Affability, Courtesy and Sweetness of her natural Temper." They were wed on April 4, 1672, and she would bear 8 children, only 3 of whom lived to adulthood, Springer, Laetitia, and William.[6] Gulielma died on February 24, 1694. On March 5, 1696, William Penn was married once more, to Hannah Callowhill, who would bear 6 children. In 1984, William and Hannah Penn were made the 3rd and 4th honorary citizens of the United States through act of Congress.[12]

Tower of London

Penn's attack on the Anglican Church's doctrine of the Trinity led to a 7-month imprisonment in the famed Tower of London from 1668-1669 by an Anglican bishop.[13] Rather than recant, Penn declared from his cell,

During this time Penn wrote several pamphlets on Quakerism, including the famous No Cross, No Crown on religious tolerance in 1669.[4] Penn ultimately was imprisoned six times, and during those imprisonments also penned in 1670 The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience arguing for separation of church and state. However, Penn's numerous writings could not stop the persecution of the Quakers, and he began to dream of a solution to the "Quaker problem", a new colony where Quakers and others could live freely together in a "Holy Experiment".[8][4]

Trial by Jury: Challenge of the Conventicle Act

To stop the growing power of Catholicism, England's Parliament passed the Conventicle Act punishing religious dissent as sedition. Nevertheless, the law was used mainly against Quakers due to their lack of political connections, and thousands were imprisoned, with England seizing their properties, including that of Penn's wife's family. The newly released William Penn, rather than backing down, promptly challenged the new Conventicle Act by holding a public Quaker meeting on August 14, 1670. The Lord Mayor of London had him and his fellow Quakers arrested immediately. At the famous trial, Penn claimed that since the government refused to present a formal indictment (which officials would not do out of fear the Conventicle Act would be overturned) the jury could not reach a guilty verdict.

The Jury acquitted all defendants, but the furious Lord Mayor fined the entire Jury and threw them in Newgate Prison. Still the Jury refused to change their verdict, and after 2 months were released through a writ of habeas corpus by the Court of Common Pleas, following which the Jury then sued the Lord Mayor of London on grounds of false arrest. This led to the famous ruling by the Lord Chief Justice of London with his 11 associates that juries must not be punished or coerced for their verdicts which would prove historically key in protecting the right to trial by jury for later generations.[4]



William Penn receiving the Charter of Pennsylvania from King Charles II.

Due to intense religious persecution of Penn's Quakers in England, Penn and other prominent Quakers prepared for an emigration to America, purchasing West Jersey in 1677, and later East Jersey in 1682 (the halves of New Jersey).[13] Penn in May 1680[1] petitioned King Charles II for land between Lord Baltimore's province of Maryland, and the province of York belonging to the Duke of York.[5] Penn agreed to forgive the Crown its £16,000 debt due the Penn family in exchange for land on which to build a colony for England's persecuted minorities.[1] On March 4, 1681, King Charles II granted a generous charter to Penn which was officially proclaimed on April 2, making him the sole proprietor of modern-day Pennsylvania, in addition to the Jersey territory they had purchased.[14] In 1682, the Duke of York, later King James II of England, also gave to Penn the state of Delaware as well,[5] a total of more than 16 million acres. While Penn wanted the new territory named "New Wales" or "Silvania" (Latin for 'forest'), King Charles II insisted that it be called Pennsylvania in honor of Penn's father, the Admiral.[1]

Native relations

Penn's government, unusually, is renowned for its cordial relations with Native Americans. Even though Penn was granted his territory by King Charles II, he refused to grant or settle it without first buying it from the Native Americans who lived there[15], insisting on purchasing it through "peaceful, voluntary exchanges," and even learned Indian dialects himself so that he could conduct negotiations without interpreters.[4] By 1668 he had purchased all but the northwestern third of Pennsylvania, and in 1684 and 1689 additionally purchased the Six Nation's claims to the rest of the land, as well as claims from the Delawares and Wyandots in 1685.[5] Penn maintained peaceful relations with the Native Americans, and was well-respected by the Susquehannocks, Shawnees, and Leni-Lenape for his courage, because he would walk among them without guards or weapons, and was an incredible sprinter who could out-run Indian braves. Penn's conclusion of a "Great Treaty" at Shackamaxon near the present-day Kensington district of Philadelphia was lauded by Voltaire as "the only treaty between those people [Indians and Christians] that was not ratified by an oath, and that was never infringed."[4] Penn also recognized citizenship rights of Swedish, Dutch, and Finnish settlers living in the newly acquired Delaware River Valley.[16]


Well ahead of his time, William Penn not only interacted peacefully with Native American tribes, but insisted on equal rights for women. While Penn nevertheless owned slaves, as did other early Quakers, Pennsylvania banned importation of slaves in 1696.[17] In 1758, before the U.S.A. was even born, Quakers formally opposed slavery altogether,[4] and would form much of the early opposition to slavery in the coming United States of America, founding the first American anti-slavery group and inspiring early abolitionism.[17]

While ahead of its time, in guaranteeing freedom of religion to all Christians - thus attracting numerous Mennonites, Amish, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, Calvinists, Moravians, Scots-Irish Presbyterians, Welsh Baptists, Irish Catholics, and Missionary Anglicans, the government did not guarantee true freedom of religion as we think of it today. Atheists were excluded, while Jews and other non-Christians could not hold office or vote.[8]

Frame of government

Philadelphia in 1702. 1875 lithograph painting by F.J. Wade
Main Article: Province of Pennsylvania

The new government of Pennsylvania, established in 1682, was a religious utopia to which all the persecuted religious minorities of Europe fled and were granted safe haven.[11] The government consisted of a Governor (originally Penn) and freemen of the province, the latter as represented by two ruling houses, a 72-member Provincial Council, and a General Assembly (200-500 representatives), both selected through free and voluntary public elections.[18]

The Provincial Council was presided over by the Governor and responsible for proposing bills to become Law[19], with sweeping power to split into 6-18 member subcommittees governing execution of the laws (commerce, transportation, justice, education, science, arts, manufacturing, budget, the Treasury, and local development).[20] Laws proposed by the Provincial Council would pass to the General Assembly (who could submit proposed bills to the Provincial Council for consideration) for passage.[21] Both houses required 2/3 approval for passage.[22] All public officials were required to be "such as possess faith in Jesus Christ".[23]

Religious freedom was guaranteed for all people professing belief in "the one Almighty and eternal God".[24] Marriage was a government institution based on the Bible[25] and sodomy/homosexuality was forbidden along with incest, prostitution, rape, drunkenness, lying, gambling, obscenity, and cruelty to animals.[26] Sundays were a day off for both citizens[27] and government.[28]

Trials were by 12-member juries with witnesses commanded to speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth".[29] Any people wrongfully imprisoned were to have double damages against the informer or prosecutor[30], and any found guilty of willful falsehood were to undergo the penalties of those against whom they bore false witness, "make satisfaction" for those they falsely testified against (presumably monetary), and be publicly exposed as false witnesses not credible for future court hearings.[31] Prisons were "work-houses" for felons and vagrants, and free in fees, food, and lodging.[32] All fees were to be moderate[33]; both extortion[34] and slander[35] were serious offenses.

Key features included:

  • Public education system requiring all children at age 12 be taught a useful trade or skill.[36]
  • Term limits, officials couldn't keep serving consecutive years due to 3 and 7 year limits[37] and couldn't hold more than one public office.[38]
  • Fair taxation declaring no taxes could be enforced on citizens apart from passed law.[39]
  • Employee protections against overwork[40], reimbursement for defrauded employers[41], and registry of employment information including names, times, wages, and days of employment.[42]
  • Government accountability, any officials found guilty of fraud were to pay double damages and dismissed of their offices.[43]

Christian Foundation

The Preamble's beginning was unapologetically Christian in tone, plainly revealing its foundation of government to be based on Biblical principles. The final word in the Preamble, apart from Penn's name, is "Amen". The following are the 1st three paragraphs of the Preamble:

Charter of Privileges

Long before the Bill of Rights, there was Penn's Charter of Privileges, passed on October 28, 1701. All citizens were guaranteed rights under a "Charter of Privileges" including:

  • Freedom of Religion. According to the first guaranteed privilege:
  • Right to Property. According to the sixth and eighth guaranteed privileges:
  • Right to Fair Trial. According to the fifth guaranteed privilege:


William Penn died on July 30, 1718 in Ruscombe, Berkshire, England, following a series of strokes.[6]

See Also

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Ries, Linda A. & Stewart, Jane S. "This Venerable Document." Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
  2. Pennsbury Manor. William Penn and American History.
  3. Penn, William (1693). "An Essay Towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of an European Dyet, Parliament, or Estates."
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 Powell, Jim. William Penn, America's First Great Champion for Liberty and Peace." The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "The Quaker Province: 1681-1776 - The Founding of Pennsylvania." Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Dubosky, J. (2009). "William Penn." Pennsylvania Study of the Book. Pennsylvania State University. Project of the Library of Congress.
  7. Baczynski, Bernadette L. (2004). "William Penn: Founder of the Pennsylvania Colony. p. 8. Capstone Press.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "People and Ideas: William Penn." God in America. PBS.
  9. "Brother Onas ... William Penn." The State Museum of Pennsylvania]."
  10. Baczynski. p. 11.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Roland, John (2011, October 25). "Excerpts from Frame of Government of Pennsylvania by William Penn, 1682." The Constitution Society.
  12. "Hannah Callowhill Penn Historical Marker." ExplorePAHistory.com.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Janney, Samuel M. (1882). "The Life of William Penn." 6th ed.
  14. "Charter for the Province of Pennsylvania-1681." Lillian Goldman Law Library. Yale Law School. The Avalon Project. Accessed April 18, 2012.
  15. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~CAP/PENN/pnind.html
    "The Founding of Pennsylvania." The Quaker Province. Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  16. "William Penn, Charter of Privileges for the Province of Pennsylvania, 1701." Treasures of the APS. American Philosophical Society.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Duqella, G., Hassell, P., et. al. "Quakers in the Anti-slavery Movement." Anti-slavery Movement: Quakers. Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Penn, William (1682, May 5). "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXXIV. Lillian Goldman Law Library. Yale University. The Avalon Project.
  19. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' XII.
  20. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' XIII.
  21. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' XIV.
  22. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' XXII.
  23. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' V, XIV.
  24. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXXV.
  25. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XIX.
  26. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXXVII.
  27. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXXVI.
  28. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' XXII.
  29. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXVI.
  30. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XII.
  31. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXVI.
  32. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' X.
  33. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XVIII.
  34. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XVII.
  35. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXX.
  36. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXVIII.
  37. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'The Frame, &c.-April 25, 1682' III, IV.
  38. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXVII.
  39. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' IV.
  40. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXIX.
  41. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXXIII.
  42. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXIII.
  43. "Frame of Government of Pennsylvania." 'Laws Agreed Upon in England, &c.' XXI.
  44. Penn, William (1701, October 28). "Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges." Constitution.org.
  45. "Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges." VI, VIII.
  46. "Pennsylvania Charter of Privileges." V.